By Diane Howard, Ph.D.
From the creators of “I Can Only Imagine” and “I Still Believe” comes “American Underdog.” It is the inspiring, true story of how faith, family and determination propelled legendary quarterback Kurt Warner from stocking groceries to Super Bowl MVP and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This action-packed, inspirational movie as a Christmas gift of Hope debuts in theaters from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company nationwide Dec. 25.
“Kurt and Brenda Warner’s true story of faith and determination deeply inspired Andy and me. We can’t wait for it to inspire audiences all over America this Christmas. It’s the perfect time to come together as a family and have your dreams rekindled. If he can accomplish his dream, so can all of us,” said director and writer Jon Erwin.
“American Underdog” tells the inspirational true story of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi), who goes from a stock boy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film centers on Warner’s unique story, years of challenges, and setbacks that threaten to destroy his dream to become an NFL player. However, when his aspirations seem out of reach, with the support of his wife, Brenda (Academy Award® winner Anna Paquin), the encouragement of his family, and the help of coaches and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is inside. “American Underdog” is an uplifting story that demonstrates anything is possible when you have faith, family and determination.
“American Underdog” is directed by the Erwin Brothers (Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin). They are joined by Kevin Downes to produce this movie through their Kingdom Story Company. Producer credits also go to Mark Ciardi, one of the industry’s top producers of sports films (“The Rookie,” “Miracle,” “Secretariat,” “Million Dollar Arm,” and “McFarland, USA.”) His experience lends authenticity and excitement to the football action.
In addition to Levi and Paquin, “American Underdog” features Emmy nominee® Dennis Quaid (“I Can Only Imagine”) as St. Louis Rams’ Coach Dick Vermeil.
“American Underdog” is written for the screen by Jon Erwin (“I Can Only Imagine”) and David Aaron Cohen (“Friday Night Lights”) and Jon Gunn (“I Still Believe”). The screenplay is based upon interviews with Warner as well as Warner’s memoir, “All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football, and the First Miracle Season” (written by Warner and Michael Silver. Kurt Warner and Brenda Warner executive produce along with Tony Young, Jon Gunn and Sean Devereaux.
This hopeful movie comes from the creators of “I Can Only Imagine” and their new Kingdom Story Company, an entertainment content company in partnership with Lionsgate. Helmed by Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Kevin Downes and Tony Young, the company endeavors to create life-changing content from a variety of talented storytellers. The Erwin Brothers are known for their movies based on real-life stories in which underdogs prevail. This is also the story of their lives, their work, and of Christians’ lives.
Here is my exclusive interview with Andrew Erwin:
DH: Why is this movie timely?
AE: There is a resurging hunger for hope. A growing desire is developing to move from what is dire, negative, and pessimistic toward what is redemptive and eternal.
DH: How is the redemptive, Christian, faith-based movie industry developing?
AE: There is a growing acceptance in mainstream media and bigger platforms for redemptive movies because of the growing interest in audiences for redemptive, family media.
DH: What is its future of redemptive, Christian, faith-based movies?
AE: New independent redemptive movie studios are developing and growing. They are flexing their muscles and moving forward, while mainstream movies, media are shrinking because people see the relevance and Hope that redemptive movies, media provide in the crises of today. They can’t get enough Hope!
DH: How can Christian talent and crew get involved with new redemptive movie companies and projects?
AE: It is important that new redemptive movie companies and projects watch for bright talent and crew who can be mentored, apprenticed. It is important that we prepare the next generation.
DH: How is your new company, Kingdom Story, developing?
AE: We are interested in projects with a Kingdom purpose and eternal ideas. We look for talent to mentor and apprentice.
DH: Why do real stories provide material for good movies?
AE: People need to see the Gospel in real lives. They need to see real characters who are multi-dimensional and authentic.
DH: What is the significance and power of role models?
AE: Real testimonies of others enlighten and inspire us.
Even when life and culture seem dire, God is working all things for good. He purifies and cleanses. His ways are not our ways. He uses the seemingly weak to shame the worldly wise.
Isaiah 55:8 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” In fact, from our point of view our God’s ways are full of ironies and paradoxes.
He says that in our weakness we find His strength. Paul says in II Corinthians 12:8-10, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong…”
We learn from the Bible that even when others are wrongly motivated against us, God works it for good. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph, who was wrongly and harshly treated says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
The scriptures tell us that God works all for good. Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers…”
Jesus told His disciples that they did not realize at the time what God was doing. John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
This is still true for us today.
God said to His people that He had good plans for them. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you…’”
This is also still true for His people today.
We can rejoice in trials because we know that God is working His good will in us. James 1:3-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…”
Therefore, as it says in I Peter 1: 3-9, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
So, like the Warners, The Erwins, their colleagues, and many Christian underdogs, let your light shine with a servant’s heart, as you work with your whole heart as unto our Lord, using your unique gifts, growing in knowledge, experience, and training. Do to the best of your ability each task our Lord gives you and let the fruits of God’s Spirit shine through you: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… There is Hope and a Glorious Everlasting Future ahead!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Diane Howard, Ph.D. is a dialogue, dialect and voice-over coach, as well as a journalist who writes about the role of faith in movies and in the entertainment field. Her website is dianehoward.com.